Friday, May 27, 2011

"If I Can Dream"

The American Response: Part 3

The ONLY American musical group whose popularity did not diminish during the British Invasion was The Four Seasons, and in fact, they are the only act to have a #1 hit before, during, and after the years that The Beatles had #1 hits on the charts. They are one of the best-selling groups of all time, having sold 175 million records worldwide. Forming in 1960 with Frankie Valli as the lead singer, along with Bob Gaudio (keyboards and tenor vocals), Tommy DeVito (lead guitar and baritone vocals), and Nick Massi (bass guitar and bass vocals), these guys were the most popular rock band before The Beatles. "Working My Way Back to You" was just another one of those Top-10 hits from later in the '60s, released in January of 1966. Although Frankie Valli is the only original member still performing today, this group's legacy lives on with lots of airplay on 'oldies' radio stations.

So wow, where do I even begin about one of the most popular singers of all time, a cultural icon, The King of Rock and Roll? With his versatile voice and broad success in several genres including country, pop ballads, gospel, and blues, Elvis Presley is THE best-selling solo artist in the history of pop music. Beginning his career in 1954 with Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee, Elvis became one of the originators of rockabilly (a upbeat blend of country and rhythm and blues), and became a leading figure in the development of rock and roll. However, during the 1960s, his music career faltered while stuck in a Hollywood contract, making formulaic (and silly) musical comedies, but that all ended when his '68 Comeback Special aired on TV in December (yeah, that one where he is looking pretty good in tight, black leather). It was Elvis' first live performance since 1961, and the special's finale was "If I Can Dream," a gospel-influenced song that featured quotations by Martin Luther King Jr. After hearing this song, Elvis proclaimed "I'm never going to sing another song I don't believe in."
Well, it isn't exactly easy following the previous two artists, so we'll just plot along with other classic, 1960s sounds of America. Formed in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1959, The Vogues were an American vocal group that started their career when their high school principle helped them record their first demo. Released in 1965, their second single "Five O'Clock World" hit #4 on the US charts and remains one of their most well-known songs today, along with "You're the One" from the previous year. Sung from the viewpoint of an urban worker looking forward to after-work freedom each day, it was not surprising that this became a major hit among steel workers in the Pittsburgh area. This arrangement was quite innovative with the repeating modal figure on 12-string guitar at the beginning and Bill Burkette's bright, baritone lead vocal (including unique yodeling lines) over a crescendoing string accompaniment. Definitely a noteworthy classic which I grew up hearing on the 1987 Good Morning, Vietnam film soundtrack.
We'll finish off today with another distinctly American-sounding pop rock group from the late '60s, Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, who also gained huge popularity in the UK. Originating in San Diego, California (yeah!), this group secured six consecutive gold records and Top-10 hits, of course fueled by the unmistakable, signature voice of baritone Gary Puckett. Released in March 1968, "Young Girl" was one of their biggest hits, reaching #2 on the US charts and #1 in the UK. With the lyrics about a man who realizes that the one he loves is under an acceptable age, this song was quite controversial at the time (and kind of still is), yet it was the second million-selling disc for the band (after "Woman Woman" in 1967), which it reached in less than two months. These guys headlined at White House reception for Prince Charles later in 1968, and received a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist the following year (losing to Jose' Feliciano). Clad in Union Army-style Civil War uniforms, here's the promo video for this classic tune.

1 comment:

  1. I do not know whether it's just me or if perhaps everyone else encountering problems with your website. It appears like some of the written text within your posts are running off the screen. Can somebody else please provide feedback and let me know if this is happening to them as well? This might be a problem with my internet browser because I've had this happen previously. Many thanks
    Here is my blog post : How To Be On A TV Show